Testing limits: Eli Bremer, modern pentathlon
The modern pentathlon is sometimes called the "true Olympic sport" because it includes five very different sports and tests an athlete's physical, mental and intellectual limits.
The sport combines pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horseback riding and running and for USA modern pentathlete Eli Bremer seemed to be conquering it all quite well last season.
He competed in his first Olympics, and despite a disappointing 22nd-place finish in Beijing, he followed up that performance six weeks later with the best U.S. showing by winning a bronze medal at the 2008 World Cup Final.
Then, in November, things changed. The International Union of Modern Pentathlon announced that the shooting and running portions of the pentathlon would be combined, with changes going into effect Jan. 1.
And the new rules have caused Bremer to contemplate what to do next.
Before January, a modern pentathlon started with athletes shooting 20 shots at a range, competing in a round-robin fencing tournament, swimming 200 meters, then competing in a show jump ride. The final event, a 3,000-meter run, was staggered based on points from the first four sports. The winner of the footrace won the competition.
The winner of the footrace still will win the competition, but now there is a twist. The stagger is based only off the fencing, swimming and show jumping competitions. Then, instead of running 3,000 meters all at once, the athletes run 1,000 meters, stop and shoot five shots, run 1,000 more meters, stop and shoot five more shots, and then run a final 1,000 meters and shoot a final five shots.
"I wasn't a big fan of it partly because it makes it much more difficult to host competitions," Bremer said. "But if they get it right, it will definitely be more interesting as a spectator sport, and that is very important in this day and age."
The Colorado native is hoping that the new format eventually will work to his advantage, calling shooting in the old format his "Achilles heel." In the new format, there is more of an emphasis on shooting quickly.
"The new format may make shooting a lot less significant, but we don't know for sure yet," Bremer said. "It will probably take two years to sort out, but if we can get to the point where I am shooting fast ... that could be a very good thing for me, if my deficit in shooting is essentially mitigated."
Bremer took some time off to relax after the 2008 season and had surgery to repair a deviated septum. He contemplated retirement, but ultimately decided in January to come back and try out the new format on a limited basis.
Bremer competed in three of the four World Cup events of the season-in Mexico City, Cairo, Egypt, and Budapest, Hungary- and finished 35th, 58th and 66th, respectively. He finished fourth at the 2009 national championships, which were June 5-7 at Rancho Mirage, Calif. He didn't qualify for the World Cup Final this season but will compete in the world championships Aug. 13-17 in London.
Whether he will go back to London three years from now for the 2012 Games remains uncertain.
"It's still on the table,'' said Bremer, 31. "You know there is going to become a time in your life when you're no longer an athlete, you are a former athlete. If this is the last year I compete in pentathlon, I've had a great career in it. Definitely making the Olympics, winning the World Cup bronze, very few athletes would be upset with that career. If I stay in the sport it's not going to be for fun, it's going to be to pursue a medal, and that's a very serious task. That's not an easy job."
Making it all the more difficult is adapting to the new format.
"It's still very new, I feel a little bit like it is teaching an old dog a new trick," he said. "It is an interesting challenge and definitely more fun to train. When you have been doing something for years and years and years, it is a fresh challenge to try something new."
Still, he didn't plan to go all out this season. After the rigid training schedule leading up to the Olympics, Bremer cut his training back quite a bit. He said he largely used the season to observe the new format so if he continues competing next year he will have a strong training plan. He also wanted to focus on some other ventures.
In the three months before the Olympics last August, Bremer said he did "absolutely nothing other than eat, sleep, train and do recovery." That recovery included weekly visits to the chiropractor and five hours of massage per week. For a guy who broke his foot and was forced to miss the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he was not going to leave any stone unturned for the 2008 Games. He was going to be in Beijing.
Now he has more time to do other things, such as work. Bremer, who has an MBA in business administration, and Patricia Miranda, a 2004 bronze medalist in wrestling, created a company called Five Ring Insight last year that does performance consulting. The company's tagline is "Olympians guiding executives with elite performance insight."
"I noticed there were a lot of parallels between the performance driving factors of business and performance driving factors of sport," Bremer said.
As for his athletic future, Bremer plans to make a decision following this season.
"At least compete this season," he said. "Then make my decision based on, do I want another three years living as an athlete?''
Having trained for two Olympic cycles, Bremer knows what he needs to do if he wants to try once again.
"The whole four-year cycle is all sort of planned out," Bremer said. "Right around the Olympics you are at your absolute peak performance and firing on all cylinders. What that means is you have to pay special attention to the volume and intensity of training. Last year they came together at a maximum at the same time.
"By the time I got back from the Olympics I knew I laid it all out on the table, there was nothing more I could have done. I had just lost my desire to train. That's exactly what you want. You come back from the Olympics and you hit it right."
Perhaps he will hit just right once again.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Chrös McDougall is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.